Thursday, January 22, 2009

always starting over: running (part 1)

I started running when I was fourteen. I ran the halls of my high school through winter my freshman year - pretty much a straight shot down hard tile except for a quick zigzag through the central foyer. Up and down the halls. Up and down. From the industrial arts classroom at one end, smelling of metal and burnt wood, to the choir and band room at the other, sounding of piano and vocal duets and gossip. The wrestlers ran the halls too, a whole herd of them sweating to make weight.

One afternoon while I waited for my dad to pick me up a the side entrance, Coach P approached me.

"How much are you running?"

"Maybe an hour. Down and back."

P squinted at me and tilted his head to the side. "Come out for track and run the two mile. You'll get a letter."

It was winter but spring season practices would start soon. I wanted a varsity letter and could get one doing something I actually liked. Cool.

I dropped out of my first race, an indoor invitational. It was hot and I was dizzy, lost count of the laps and forgot all the split times P told me to memorize. My shins were splintering and I thought I might throw up. So I quit.

Things got better. And I did get a letter.

I joined cross country my sophomore year and loved it: the pain, the misery, the camaraderie, the joy. Legs burning on the final turn, finish chute in sight. Just feeling alive, wet shoes and mud splatter, your pulse pounding in your ears the second you stopped.

So I ran through high school and wasn't the best or the worst. I was usually second or third distance runner on our team, a comfortable spot. I had some great races and some okay races. My running ambitions were low but my senior year I did push it to place tenth in my cross country conference meet. Tenth of maybe eighty. I can't remember. I think my time was 17:24. That time sticks in my head.

About nine years later, in 2006, I placed tenth in the Green Bay half marathon. I was the only runner in the women's top ten whose mile splits were over seven minutes (7:07) and know that pace wouldn't land me in the top twenty of some other races. But I was happy. And I wanted to be faster. That December, I placed third or fifth (woman) at my college town YMCA's annual ten mile road race. It's the kind of race that makes you feel tough because it's below zero and you get windburnt. And I felt tougher because I brought my mile splits down to 7:02.

So that was the year I wanted to learn how to race smart. I wanted to start racing more frequently, at different distances. And unlike my que sera sera approach to times in high school (to my credit, I occasionally lit a fire and worked toward a time goal, but was happier not thinking death waited at the finish line), I suddenly really really wanted to be good. And that was also the year that my lower right leg turned to pins and needles. And my right hip radiated pain. And I quit chomping ib profen. Quite a running year.

To be continued.


N.D. said...

THat's so neat you were just running the halls and the coach told you to join the team. That's like what happens in the movies. :) You're super speedy!

DC Running Mama said...

Funny....I remember running the halls in HS, too. I was a total lack-luster runner in HS...mostly b/c I would skip practice more often than I went. Can't wait to read about the rest of your journey!!